Thursday, 1 October 2009

Fasting - spiritual or physical?

Something I've been thinking about (and have been asked about) in regards to fasting for weight loss is how that practice would influence fasting for spiritual reasons. I'm not necessarily sure I have all the answers, but I'm going to think out loud here for a bit.

My biggest thought is that it comes down to the motivation behind the fast.

I am rather embarrassed to admit that, along with never having read the Bible all the way through before this year, I have also never fasted for spiritual reasons. I haven't heard much teaching on fasting before, and have never researched it myself and honestly haven't thought much about it at all, until now.

According to Brad Pilon's Eat Stop Eat, there are numerous physical benefits to fasting, including decreased body fat & body weight, decreased blood glucose levels, dereased insulin levels & increased insulin sensitivity, increased lipolysis & fat oxidation, increased growth hormone levels, decreased food related stress and more.

And, of course, there are spiritual "benefits" to fasting as well. The goal of fasting for spiritual reasons is to focus on God, to draw closer to Him, to gain wisdom or guidance before making a decision, to fellowship with God at a deeper level. Fasting does not change God, it changes us.

Here are a few articles I found about fasting.....
Christian Fasting
What does the Bible say?

So, this is why I think it comes down to motivation.....

You can fast without growing closer to God. Fasting for purely physical reasons (to lose weight) is simply not eating. You are not praying instead of eating, you are not focusing on God, you are not growing closer to Him - you are simply. not. eating. That's it. That is what I have been doing these past few weeks - all of my fasts have been purely from a weight loss motivation.

Now, here's the trickier part - can you fast for both physical and spiritual reasons at the same time?

My answer is ..... it depends.

Way to straddle the fence, eh? Stick with me here and I'll explain...

If you are trying to lose weight and gluttony has been an issue in your life, or you have been turning to food instead of to God for any reason, I think it is possible to fast for both spiritual and physical reasons. By doing this you are addressing the root of your weight problem and are drawing closer to God - losing weight (though still intentional) is a result/benefit of your spiritual fasting. I am not familiar with the exact teachings of the Lord's Table bible study and weight loss program - but I would think that this is an excellent example of benefiting from fasting both spiritually and physically.

However, if your desire to lose weight (even if it's a lot of weight) has nothing to do with your desire to grow closer to God, if you have not acknowledged the spiritual roots of your weight issues, then you are fasting for purely physical reasons and will not experience the spiritual benefits of fasting as there is no spiritual motivation/intention behind the fast.

Also - if your relationship with God has no correlation to your desire to lose weight (such as my goal of losing those last few pounds of babyweight), if your motivation for losing those last few pounds is purely physical, then you are also fasting with a physical motivation and not a spiritual motivation and will therefore not experience the spiritual benefits of fasting.

So the hard question is - knowing the physical benefits (weight loss in particular) of fasting, can you/I fast for spiritual reasons only, without having a hidden agenda of losing weight at the same time?

The answer to this question of course, is very personal. Only you (and God, of course!) know your heart and the true motivation behind your decision to fast. But yes, I believe it is possible. If I feel that God is wanting me to fast, or I feel that I need to fast in order to gain insight or to grow closer to God - I can absolutely make a conscious decision to fast for spiritual reasons. If I do so though, my day will look different than if I was fasting for physical reasons. If during this spiritual fast I'm not praying more than I normally would, or reading my Bible more than usual - then my motivation was not spiritual and I will not receive any spiritual benefit from the fast. But if my actions jive with my motivation then I am fasting for truly spiritual reasons and I will receive the spiritual blessings that come with it.

Another questions is - if you fast regularly for physical reasons (like I have been), will it make fasting for spiritual reasons too "easy", or too routine, so that you'll miss the point/benefits for fasting?

This could be a potential problem if the focus of a spiritual fast was on food and not eating it.

Not eating food is the focus of physical fasting.

Growing closer to God is the focus of spiritual fasting.

The truth is, spiritual fasting does not have to involve food at all! In fact, for some people and their health situation, that could be a very unwise decision. You can fast from many things - food, only certain types of food (such as meat), tv, Pepsi, computers, etc. The point of fasting is to give up something physical with the goal of growing closer to God. So, if routine physical fasting has made giving up food too easy - then simply choose another item to give up when you want to fast for spiritual reasons.

In other words, you can't use that as an excuse not to fast for physical reasons. :)

Should Christians be fasting? Yes, absolutely they should be and this is something I have not done, and need to start doing. Consider the following scripture passage (emphasis mine)...

Matthew 6:16-18 When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

The scripture says when, not if. It is not commanded, however it certainly appears to be expected. And with the benefit of growing closer to God, having our will line up with His instead of ours, receiving wisdom and guidance - why we would not?

So, those are some of my thoughts. Agree? Disagree? I'd love to hear your thoughts.


Anonymous said...

I haven't heard much about the physical benefits of fasting, since I've heard & observed more about the possible physical cons of fasting, being how it can slow down your metabolism & therefore cause you to actually gain more weight back when you start eating regularly again.

But I totally agree with your conclusion about the difference between physical and spiritual fasting. I've heard a fair amount of teaching on fasting and it is something that is highly encouraged in the house of prayer that we attend, however, because of being either pregnant or nursing for the majority of the last couple years, I haven't been able to participate in spiritual fasting as much as I would like. But, if you're interested, there's a good article and an MP3 teaching that I would recommend...

Here is another list of great fasting resources that you could check out...

kristilea said...

I had never been convicted about fasting. I just never felt that it was something God wanted me to do, or if it was really something He wanted anybody to do. Then I started thinking more and more about it and heard more about it, read more about it, so on. But since I have been overweight for years and weight is always on my mind, I put off fasting because I felt I would only be doing it for the wrong reasons. I thought I would focus on how I hoped I would loose weight at the end of it, and not on the real reason I was fasting.

Then the Lord made it clear to me that He wanted me to fast and He showed me why He wanted me to do it. He even told me how long to do it. He wanted me to fast through our revival services. Because of my health problems I was so afraid that I wouldn't be able to fast. I gave this to the Lord as well, and He told me that I was to only eat bread for those 4 days. Whole wheat whole grain bread. I was fasting for two reasons. One, was to pray for a girl at our church who was unsure of her salvation, and the other was to turn to Him instead of food. I realized that my eating habits were very sinful and it was time to turn that over to Him. I read Deuteronomy 8:3 every time I sat down to eat my bread and prayed for this girl and asked God to help me turn to Him for my needs and that His word and that bread alone would provide me with all I stood in need of.

So for me, I think if the Lord leads you to it, anytime is the right time to fast. But I think it needs to come with scripture and I think if you find that your motivations are turning, or your mind is wandering to thinking of the physical aspects of your's time to stop and repent.

I can't speak from personal experience since I don't fast for purely phisical reasons, but I think it would kind of take away from spiritual fasting, because you would be more used to it, and you wouldn't be doing something very difficult and out of the ordinary for God, but that's just my thoughts. I don't really know since I've not been in that situation. Very interesting topic though. I agree with most of what you said in your post.

Noel said...

you know, I have never fasted and frankly the thought scares me! I've battled the beginnings of diabetes so it doesn't take much and I'm shaking or passing out. I love your thoughts about including God in your weight loss. He can make you able :)


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